Weasel Butt Peak
Having been rather lazy for most of the month, I was determined to get out somewhere, anywhere. The weather on the east slopes of the Cascades looked promising. Jonathan Ley was thinking exactly what I was, and along with the Supreme Chief of the Phinney Ridge Explorers club, we decided to go for a little walk. After staying the night in Seattle, we drove out to the trailhead for Windy Pass near Leavenworth for a true alpine start at 11 am.
April 30-May 1, 2005
There were day hikers about, carrying little packs and wearing lots of cotton. With snow shoes, an ice axe, and lots of funny looking synthetic stuff, we were definitely out of place. Particularly as there was no snow to be seen except on some of the high peaks towering above us.
The trail led uphill briefly and onto something approximating a plateau, where we strolled through a pleasant forest, decorated rather nicely by a 1994 fire. It was nice to get out and stretch my legs a bit, even if the pack was heavier than I wanted and I had boots on my feet instead of runners. Still, I felt pretty tough carrying an ice axe. At lower Eightmile lake we rested for a bit and watched day hikers go by.
By the lake, we picked up the Trout Creek trail which began climbing immediately toward the ridge above us. Sweating, despite the cooling air, I rose up slowly and found the views of upper Eightmile Lake, nestled below sheer mountains and still frozen, to be rather scenic.
After gaining for a bit, Loren found a rather stunning look out to take a rest at, complete with wildflowers. Jonathan and Loren worked hard taking pictures while I sat about resting and doing nothing productive.
All pictured out, we continued climbing higher and higher and actually began to run into snow. Enough that we could put snowshoes on for a little bit. Unfortunately, they then came right back off as the snow ended. We were nearing 6000 feet, and snow wasn't an issue. Odd winter.
The main Enchantment area, however, didn't seem to be suffering from a lack of snow. Aesgard Pass looked thick. Little Annapurna, hulking above the pass, was pure white. Colchuck and Dragontail were streaked with snow. I was happy to be where I was.
After topping out, the trail turned to snow on the flat, forested land and we were treated to some recent bear tracks coming up from Caroline Lake below us, made by a midsize bear a few hours earlier. Strapping on our snow shoes, we picked our way down the steep slope to the lake, which was still frozen over.
With no trail in sight, we looped around the right side of the lake and then headed up into the trees toward Little Caroline lake. Loren stopped to squeeze out some water from his socks (he had made a detour into an outlet creek), leaving Jonathan and I to wander on our own. We gained too much elevation and went the wrong way, but eventually linked up with Loren again near Little Lake Caroline.
While I thought the location to be plenty stunning, Jonathan and Loren wanted more, so up we went, following a track occasionally, but mostly snow shoeing cross country up and onto the flanks of a ridge. Around the ridge we went and on the other side Windy Pass came into view. Unfortuantely, I had taken my snowshoes off for a clear-trail section and was now post holing rather badly on the slope. At best, I'd sink in up to my knee. More commonly, I went in to my hip. Thrashing about was not much fun.
We climbed up and around into a cirque, with snow shoes on now, and made a semi-direct line for the pass. I reached the top of the pass and was stunned by the views off to the north and west. I was even more stunned by the fact that I was alone.
Jonathan was down below, but Loren had been in front of me. I looked around and found him climbing up a small peak to the left of the pass. As his pack was on his back, I supposed that he wanted us to follow him up to the top. I scratched out the Pythagorean theorem in the snow and pondered this.
I was more than happy to camp here, as the views were great, there was a big flat snowy area to camp on, and the view from up high just wasn't going to be any better. Jonathan didn't see things this way, so up I went as we were sharing a tent for the night. The 100 feet of gain wasn't much, but the view did improve a little bit as Ingals peak came into sight. Loren was taking a snow bath when we arrived at the top, 6.5 hours after setting out.
Cashmere Mountain loomed on one side, with Mount Stewart, the second highest non-volcanic peak in the state, anchoring the other. A small glacier could be spotted on Stewart.
Row after row of snowy mountains dominated the western horizon, including the oddly shaped Sloan and rotund Daniel. Jonathan and I got my tent set up on a nice snowy area and then joined Loren for a long session of melting snow.
For kicks, Jonathan started up his cell phone and Loren became one of "those people" by making the traditional: "Hey! Guess where I am" calls. We all thought this rather funny.
The weather kept getting better and better, with little wind and a break of warm sunshine every now and then. I still bundled up, but the joy of being in that place, and that time, was enough to warm me through and through. It is better to be happy than sad, and it wasn't nearly cold enough for me to want to be anywhere else.
At 7300 feet, were were not especially high up. But the combination of the snow, the landscape, and the increasingly beautiful early evening light were enough to give everything a glow that hid the fact that we were in a desolate place. Or, more accurate, were in a desolate time. In a few months, this place would be a warm, sunny alpine play ground where life was easy. The peak wasn't named on our maps, which meant that we had to name it in order to give it a little character. Various names came up, but when a weasel scurried to the outer ring of our conference, looked at us, and then turned tail and ran, we had a winner: Weasel Butt Peak. Or, rather, I had a winner as the others were not convinced this was an appropriate name for such a minor feature.
The sun dropped lower and lower on the horizon and the world, as it always does when the conditions are just right, lit up in a glow of orange, pink, and red. Bouncing off the snow and lighting up the low, forested valleys below, the sunset seemed to go on forever. The clouds over head caught some of the rays as the sun neared the horizon and turned into a red that only candy makers can replicate.
I pondered why sunsets were so stimulating, and asked the others, but we couldn't come up with anything beyond the beauty aspect. Maybe that is all there is, suggested Jonathan. Different light makes things look different. Perhaps.
With the loss of the sun, it cooled rapidly and Loren hopped into his bivy sack for comfort. I pulled on a mixture of Cruzon with hot chocolate and instant coffee, and this kept me plenty warm. Warm enough to stay up and wander about the top of Weasel Butt watching the last of the red turn to purple, and then purple to black.
Jonathan took some long exposure shots before we called it quits for the day, high and isolated above the lights of Leavenworth far in the distance. Staying in a "resort" town, the temporary dwellers in Leavenworth were missing a part of their inheritance. Hopefully they would come to see it some day.
Loren's thermometer read a bracing 24 degrees at 7 am, after sitting in the sun for a while. The snow had a fresh crust on it. Wind overnight had blown out the clouds and we were left with nothing but sparkling blue skies overhead. And the wind, which was rather chilly, even with several layers on.
The three of us lounged about for as long as we could. Jonathan had to get back to Portland tonight, which meant we would have to hustle a little but. Down came the tent, packs got stuff, and a few final pictures were taken before descending to Windy Pass.
Rather than following our tracks back down from the pass, we set off in various directions and glissaded down the slopes to the basin below. Rambling along the traverse, we found ourselves quickly back at Little Caroline Lake.
Following Loren's lead this time, we skirted through the forest, following coyote tracks, and dropped to Lake Caroline, from which Weasel Butt Peak was clearly visible. It looked even less impressive from here as it did from up there. But, the view from the top was grand.
Our friend the bear had been through here, and I followed his tracks directly up the steep snow slopes to regain the plateau on top. Re-united after break, there was no more snow to deal with and nothing but a nice downward path to the Eightmile lake. Given the outstanding weather (it was even warm at the lake!), I was surprised that we only ran into two couples out for dayhikes. Leavenworth must have other attractions.
From Lakewood, drive I-5 north to Everett and pick up US 2 heading east over to Stevens Pass. It is required that you stop at the Espresso Chalet for a latte. Cross the pass and drop down toward Leavenworth, taking pains not to miss the right turn for Icicle Creek Road. It is right before Leavenworth, and you do not want to go into Leavenworth. Drive down the nicely paved road and make a left when you see the Eightmile sign. Follow the gravel road up about four miles to the trailhead, just before a bridge.
Hike up about 3 miles to lower Eightmile Lake and make a left on the Trout Creek trail, which switchbacks rather a lot to gain the top of a ridge. Drop down the other side to Lake Caroline, taking care on the snow. The trail is on the other side of Lake Caroline, and it leads to Little Caroline Lake. From the little on, climb up and traverse around the ridge on the far side. Traverse up the valley on the other side. Windy Pass is the thing in front of you. From Windy Pass, climb up the minor bump to get to Weasel Butt. It is about 5.5 miles to Caroline Lake, and another 2.5 miles to Weasel Butt Peak.
You'll need a permit to stay overnight and a Northwest Forest pass (or Golden Eagle, etc) to park.